Saturday, November 29, 2014
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Despite 3-0 record, Trojans drop in polls after so-so win at Minnesota. Bruins earn first victory of the season led by stifling defense and improved offense.

 

By Michael Brown

Sentinel Sports Writer

 

USC freshman receiver Robert Woods’ third quarter 97-yard kick return for a touchdown proved to be a game changer as the Trojans struggled to put away an inferior Minnesota team on the road in another uneven performance.

 

With three victories under its belt, USC’s latest victory against Minnesota, 32-21, on September 18 mirrored its first two wins of the season as the Trojans trailed for most of the first two and a half quarters. However, USC’s stagnant offense was kick-started after Woods’ (Gardena Serra HS) return put it ahead 19-14 with under six minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Woods’ big play was one of four USC touchdowns for 20 yards or more. After the Trojans defense came up with several stops, quarterback Matt Barkley finished an 11-play, 88-yard drive to begin the fourth quarter by throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to receiver David Ausberry.

 

On USC’s next drive, tailback Allen Bradford put the game out of reach by scoring on a 56-yard run, putting the Trojans up 32-14. USC failed to score afterward on its third two-point conversion attempt of the game.

 

Bradford, who entered fall practice as the favorite to win the tailback position before he was hobbled by injuries, has been used sparingly through two games. But, head coach Lane Kiffin decided to use Bradford in tandem with Marc Tyler and it paid off as the Trojans compiled 216 yards rushing.

 

After Bradford rushed for 131 yards on 12 carries, he said, “I knew once my number was called I was going to go out there and play hard. I was supposed to be the starter but things happen. Whenever an opportunity comes knocking, I’m going to answer.”

 

Prior to USC’s second half explosion; it looked like an also-ran against a Golden Gophers team that had lost to South Dakota, a Football Championship Subdivision team, the week prior.

 

Minnesota struck first after USC missed a 48-yard field goal. Minnesota’s 9-play, 69-yard drive was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by DeLeon Eskridge, giving the Gophers a 7-0 lead.

 

USC tied the score on a 1-yard touchdown run by Tyler and went ahead on a Barkley 53-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the second quarter, putting the Trojans up 13-7.

 

Aside from the scoring plays, the Trojans had a hard time sustaining long drives. Barkley, who finished the game 17 of 26 for 192 yards with two touchdowns, also was intercepted twice by the Gophers.

While USC’s offense failed to excel, the defense showed signs of improvement for the second straight game as it limited Minnesota to 83 total rushing yards and forced three turnovers, including a key interception by safety Jawanza Starling.

 

“We’re excited to be 3-0, but we obviously have a long, long way to go and a lot of stuff to do,” Kiffin said after the game. USC will face one more tune-up game this weekend when it travels to Pullman to play Washington State. The Cougars have been a Pac-10 doormat for several years and lost last week to a porous Southern Methodist team.

 

In a Tuesday interview on ESPN radio, Kiffin said the Trojans’ goal this week was to put together a complete game. Not only wasn’t Kiffin totally impressed by his team’s performance, but Associated Press voters obviously weren’t as well. USC dropped from No. 18 to 20 in the latest poll.

 

UCLA

 

After an embarrassing performance the week prior at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins returned to the scene of the humiliating loss and made amends to its fans by crushing Houston physically, rendering the nation’s No. 1 ranked offense inefficient.

 

Early on, after a failed drive by the Bruins and a subsequent field goal by Houston made the score 3-0, UCLA fans probably thought they were in for another long day. The week prior, the Bruins were beaten by Stanford, 35-0.

 

But, UCLA’s offensive game plan was simple and effective. Struggling quarterback Kevin Prince was an efficient but unspectacular 9 of 17 for 99 yards with one interception for the game and the rest of the offensive load was carried by a bevy of tailbacks in a 31-13 victory on September 18.

 

In fact, after Houston scored, its kicker Matt Hogan nearly muffed the kick and only got it off for 21 yards. The Bruins capitalized on the mistake by going down the field led by a 24-yard run by Prince and finished by running back Jonathan Franklin’s 11-yard touchdown scamper.

 

Though early in the game, the rout was on from then as the Bruins scored 31 unanswered points.

 

Two of UCLA’s first three touchdowns were scored by Franklin who was the workhorse for the game finishing with 26 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns. In total, the Bruins ran the ball 51 times for 266 yards on the day.

 

When the Bruins weren’t running the ball on offense, its defense was attacking Houston’s offense which came into the game averaging 61 points per game. Houston quarterback Case Keenum is college football’s fifth leading passer of all-time with 13,586 yards and 106 touchdowns.

 

But someone forgot to tell the Bruins’ defense last weekend that it ought to be in awe.

Keenum was 10 of 18 for 83 yards and struggled as UCLA’s pressure kept him flustered. Bruins linebacker Akeem Ayers (Verbum Dei HS) intercepted a Keenum pass in the second quarter and returned it for 77 yards to Houston’s 23-yard line. Keenum’s day became worse when he was injured on the return while trying to make a tackle, resulting in him tearing his ACL-ending his year.

 

UCLA safety Rahim Moore (Dorsey HS), who returned another second quarter interception 42 yards, told the Associated Press in a postgame interview that preparation helped the Bruins earn the victory.

 

He said, “We watched so much film throughout the week that we pretty much knew everything Houston was trying to do. With that type of offense being so dynamic, we didn't let it confuse us. You know what's funny? Nobody gave us a chance. They said the defense couldn't make plays. They were giving us all kinds of letter grades that were bad, and we took it personal."

 

UCLA will take its momentum to Austin this Saturday where it will face the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns.

 

 

 

Category: Football


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